Struggle over the ages II

How Kreutzwald’s “Kalevipoeg” recreates the meaning of Goethe’s “Faust”


Keywords: rhetoric, “The Anxiety of Influence”, synecdoche, hyperbole, metalepsis, Harold Bloom, Paul de Man

This article is a sequel to “Struggle over the ages I: Reading Kreutzwald’s “Kalevipoeg” as opposite in meaning to Goethe’s “Faust”” (Parksepp 2023). The pair of articles aims to exemplify how Harold Bloom’s and Paul de Man’s complementary views on rhetoric and tropes help to reveal the differences and similarities between Goethe’s and Kreutz­wald’s masterpieces. The objective of the first article was to describe how, according to the anxiety of influence theory, the limiting tropes of irony, metonymy and metaphor can be used to depict the change in meaning from “Faust” to “Kalevipoeg”, whereas this article shows how the Bloomian recurring tropes of synecdoche, hyperbole and metalepsis define ways in which the Estonian national epic recreates the meaning of Goethe’s grand tragedy. Underneath all the stylistic and genre conventions lies a story of two opposite protagonists with a similar fate. Both Faust and Kalevipoeg commit crimes, although the full tragedy of Gretchen is reduced to a synecdoche: an episode where Kalevipoeg meets an island maiden whose death he causes by accident. Both protagonists get help from the devil or hell, but Mephistopheles’ and Faust’s imaginative paper money finds a hyperbolical counterpart in the later work: Kalevipoeg defeats the devil and brings real treasures out from the underworld. However, a Bloomian metaleptic reversal of history occurs in the final episodes of both works. The salvation of Faust raises questions; one could argue that it is an example of Aristotle’s deus ex machina method, where the fate of Faust’s soul does not follow from the plot. By comparison, the final scene of “Kalevipoeg” seems more logical. Although the deceased national hero is briefly cheered in heaven, he is still sent to hell as a gatekeeper. Even on a white horse his disabled body is a gruesome reminder of his blood guilt. His wrongdoings and evil deeds are not forgotten as in “Faust”, where the protagonist is saved from hell due to his eternal drive. Even the prophetic final lines of “Kalevipoeg” include a warning taboo: with the return of the mighty Estonian hero, evil will also be set free. Therefore, on a rhetorical level, it can be argued that the end of “Kalevipoeg” is more refined and fulfils the Bloomian trope-reversing trope of metalepsis. Rhetorically, the ending of “Kalevipoeg” can be read as an original to the closing scene of “Faust”, where the interrogation of good and evil (the hero and the devil bound together at hell’s gate) is replaced with an idea of good always prevailing over evil (an all-powerful heaven with Mater Gloriosa just waiting for Faust). Of course, this is only one point of view, but it shows how Bloomian ideas can be used methodically to analyse great works of literature. It also raises the objectively unanswerable question of why great works of literature survive over the ages.


Tõnis Parksepp (b. 1987), MA, freelance dramatist; University of Tartu, doctoral student at the Institute of Cultural Research (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), tonisparksepp@gmail.com